Recently, I have noticed some very young children participating in local distance events such as the CASA Superhero 5k and the Austin Triathlon. After being smoked by at least one child that appeared to be between the ages of 8 and 11 (during the CASA Superhero 5K)…and when I was done picking my lower jaw back up off the ground, I began to wonder what it was like for these young children to train for a distance event. Part of my wondering centers around the time and energy it takes to train for a distance event…and the eventual injuries that come along with training. How do these aspects affect kids? Are there limits? Of course there must be, right?
I started poking around on the Internet, and I found some really interesting information. I have long harrumphed at those Marathon Kids stickers I see on the backs of minivans around town. I assumed that the sticker was meant to boast that the supercharged distance running owner was pushing their kids to also run long distances. Boy was I WRONG…really, really wrong. One of the first things I looked up on the Internet was the Marathon Kids program, which, it turns out, is a brilliant program that is designed to encourage kids to develop personal habits that include exercise, eating well, and growing their own healthy foods. This program is offered to public, private, and home-school children between the ages of 5 and 10. Individuals also can participate. The program is FREE. I look forward to participating in this program with my children when they are eligible.
I looked around for information about kids participating in triathlons, and I found some great (and encouraging to me) information on the USAT site. This site has some great information about ideal distances for kids to practice with and how to use everyday activities like running, biking, or walking to school and/or swimming with friends to train for a triathlon.
Looking for a personal perspective, I asked a friend who is a lifelong distance runner and the mother of a five-year-old girl for her take on kids and endurance events. I knew that her daughter sometimes runs with her and has participated in some Kids K events around town. She explained to me that while she and her hubs encourage their daughter to run for fun, they are rather strict on the amount of running she does and are careful always to keep the competitive aspect to a bare minimum.
I also got a chance to talk to Lindsay Rosenthal, co-founder of 1379 Family Sports Shop. Lindsay, a long-time athlete and mother, had some great insight to share about endurance training for kids and how to keep it fun, interesting, and from causing burnout or injury. Talking with Lindsay taught me that playing games like tag, participating in relays, and just plain getting out to MOVE are great ways to build endurance, ensure a child is using his/her entire body, and help avoid burnout and repetitive stress injuries. Consider this: an enthusiastic game of tag is cross training for a child who is building endurance. Lindsay also told me about her own habits with her children – changing up the entire family’s focus every couple months by changing what sport or game they participate in regularly. Since 1379 Family Sport Shop is more than just a place to buy athletic gear, I asked Lindsay if and how she mentors other kid runners/endurance athletes. She makes sure to tell them about other sports and games to check out in addition and/or in place of whatever endurance training they are currently doing. Lindsay also told me about some kids/family-focused sports groups and events around town: